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44                               THE GAY GENIUS

said. "The ancient tale of Ch'u is pure fiction. The fairies do not have
a sex life."

But the old boatman began to telLhim stories, how in his young days
he used to climb the highest peaks, bathe in a mountain pool, and
hang his clothes on a branch to dry. There were monkeys on the""
mountains, but as he went up to the great altitudes, the bird-calls and
the monkey-cries stopped, and there was nothing but silence and the
mountain wind. The tigers and wolves did not go up there and he
was completely alone and unafraid. At the temple to the Fairy Maiden
there was a special variety of bamboo whose soft branches bent low
and touched the ground, as if in worship of the fairy spirit. As the
wind moved, the branches swayed and kept the stone altar always
clean, like a servant of the goddess. Su Tungpo was touched. "Per-
haps one can become a fairy after all. The difficulty lies in forgetting
human desires." Throughout his life Su Tungpo, like his contem-,
poraries, was quite open-minded about the possibility of meeting fairies
and becoming one himself.

When they entered the Wu Gorges, "divine birds" began to follow
the boat. These ravens were doing no more than what every bird of
sense would a do. For several miles above or below the Fairy Girl's
Temple, they spotted a boat coming and followed it all the way to
pick up food from its passengers. The latter usually made a game of
it. They tossed up cakes into mid-air and watched with delight how
the ravens swooped down and picked them up without fail.

Naturally, these regions were uninhabited and uninhabitable. Thf
Sus passed through the East Dashing Rapids, where the water surged
and billowed and tossed the boat about like a dry leaf in a small whirl-
pool, and when they thought they had gone through the worst, they
came upon the even more dangerous Roaring Rapids. Strange monster
rocks lined the shore and extended to the middle of the stream. Then
they came to a place whose name, to be intelligible, can only be trans-
lated as "the Jar of Human Herrings", meaning a place where many
travellers had lost their lives, like a kettle of dead fish. This was a
giant boulder occupying four-fifths of the river, narrowing it down to
a small passage and forcing the boat going down to take a precipitous
curve. Any traveller surviving the sudden dip around the Jar of
Human Herrings would feel towards the old boatman as towards his
second father.

Coming out of the Wu Gorges, they soon arrived -at Tsekuei and
began to see shabby huts dotting the bank at different levels. It was a
very small town, with no more than three or four hundred families,
situated on the sharp slope of the hill-side. The inhabitants were
extremely poor, and yet considering the exciting beauty of the place,
which must enter into men's souls, it was not altogether unreasonable